Friday, April 08, 2016

053. Brain Twisters and 054. Dr. Jekyll and the Werewolf

Jump to Dr. Jekyll and the Werewolf (1972)

053. Brain Twisters (1991)
Director: Jerry Sangiuliano
Writer: Jerry Sangiuliano
From: Cult Cinema and Sci-Fi Invasion

Subjects in a study on sensory stimulation begin experiencing psychotic fugue states.

A college professor is doing experiments on students and himself on behalf of a corporation. The experiments involve putting the subject into a sensory-deprivation chamber and projecting bad 80's computer graphics on their faces all in the name of VAGUE SCIENCE!

As with all vague science, the corporation funding the project is threatening to cut the funding. The professor objects. They're collecting “data,” there's much “expense,” the scientist will have proof “in time,” but the big wigs are pulling the plug due to lack of “results.” Always a risk when you practice vague science.

Is this what you humans call "charm?"
The professor continues pursuing his research because apparently the funding thing isn't actually a concern (?) and offers one of his students a work-study appointment in the lab. It's an amazing scene. You really get the sense that the direction in the movie was, “Tone down the charisma. No, no, less affect, you almost came off as creepy. There, absolutely nothing. Perfect.” This may be the first mumblecore movie.

Things insist on moving forward, or seeming like they are. The pacing of these Crown Int. films is relentlessly “Get it? Get it yet? Cause we can wait. Get it? Okay. Next shot. . . soon.” There's a student who offers to sleep with the prof in exchange for a passing grade—something she says she'd done with another professor—and he instead asks her to be a subject in the experiment after which she disappears until the end of the movie.

Meanwhile, one of the prof's other subjects is walking his girlfriend home. She has to meet a friend for an aerobics class so she can't screw around right then, and he leaves in a huff. Moments later, someone comes in through the front door and kills her. When the police are investigating the scene, one cop notes that she left the door unlocked and says, “Not very bright.” Interesting way of saying she was asking for it. Apparently you're not responsible for murder if the victim didn't lock their door. And, yes, if you're thinking, “These sound like more-than-vaguely misogynistic tropes,” you are right.

Anyway, the boyfriend is the immediate suspect and when he's informed about the death, he enters a fugue state and jumps out the window. The lead officer on the case is trying to get the prof's new assistant on his side because she has privileged access and knew all the victims. Also, he wants to bang her.

No, seriously, that's the love interest in the film. The 40-something cop hitting on the 20-something girl whose friends are dying. He actually goes to her place, makes her dinner (spaghetti. Yeah, no) and offers the grossest, most ham-fisted pick-up line I've ever heard in a movie. While he's unpacking a grocery bag with the ingredients for the sauce, he asks, “Which one are you: fresh clams or the virgin olive?”

I'm trying to remember if I found this movie enjoyably bad or just hated every stupid moment of it. That line reminds me that I am repressing this movie even as I write it up. One of my notes for this is literally, “How is this a movie?” and yet I keep forgetting that I hated this.

Anyway, the corporation sends a signal to her TV to try to make her kill the cop, but, sadly, she overcomes. The prof starts entering his own fugue states and finds out about all his test subjects becoming violent. He realizes the corporation has been covering it up and even keeping it from him.

This, typically, would be the point in the movie where the prof teams up with the cop to take down the corporation, but he doesn't. Instead, he remains the villain, keeps upping the intensity of the experiments on himself, and starts creeping on the assistant who's trying to sneak sensitive info to the cop who's been thrown off the case because the corporation has gotten the feds to come in and claim jurisdiction.

Nothing in this movie makes sense. 70 minutes in, it still feels like we're setting up the first act.

Prof tries to kill his assistant, but the spell is broken by some flashing lights. He goes back to the lab where the corporation's boss shows up, has the prof shot by the janitor that's been a corporate spy the whole time (yeah, I don't even know), and the prof dies. The spy goes to get a missing tape from the assistant, is run over by the cop, and has a hilariously Wicked-Witch-of-the-West-esque death scene. The head of the corporation is killed by the girl who tried to trade sex for a grade (welcome back to the movie!) and she's found catatonic at the lab by the cop and assistant.

Twist ending: all the technology is being developed for a video game called Brain Twisters that we see an angry child playing at the end of the movie. Why? There are questions we may never know the answer to.

From how much I've written here, it's obvious there's a lot to laugh at in the movie as it's just so incompetently done and full of clichés. It's so frustratingly paced, though. I had to keep myself from constantly shouting, “We get it, we get it, cut to the next scene, Jesus!” Plus the constant creeper moments and vibe of the film make it a difficult watch. This felt like Invisible Maniac minus that film's sub-porno pretense which at least imbued that with a sense of fun. I can only recommend this for watching with caustic friends who can make the worst things pleasant, but it's just a big no otherwise.

From Mondo Esoterica
054. Dr. Jekyll and the Werewolf aka Doctor Jekyll y el Hombre Lobo (1972)
Director: León Klimovsky
Writer: Paul Naschy
From: Pure Terror

Paul Naschy reprises his signature role as the werewolf Waldermar Daninsky, this time traveling to London to seek help from Dr. Jekyll who believes his grandfather's Hyde formula may be the cure for Daninsky's lycanthropy.

I don't know what I can say about this movie, mostly because it's been severely edited. My cut is 72 minutes long whereas IMDB lists this as being 96 minutes and the version currently available for streaming on Amazon is 89. So much has been cut from the version I have that there aren't even opening credits. I had to grab the title card from Mondo Esoterica's review of a different DVD version of the film, one that they seemed to enjoy much more than I did.

The movie starts almost mid-conversation in London where a newlywed couple tells their friends that they'll be honeymooning in Transylvania so the husband can visit his parents' graves. When one of the friends warns the couple that Transylvania is werewolf country (cause that's what we all think when we hear “Transylvania”), a window blows open and a bust shatters on the floor. They all laugh and leave and we are done with London for the next thirty minutes.

Very shortly the couple is warned not to visit the graveyard because it's haunted and the castle houses a great evil. They go anyway, robbers kill the husband, are about to assault the wife when Paul Naschy shows up and kills one of the thugs. He takes the now widow and her husband's corpse back to his castle. Meanwhile, in the village, the thugs are plotting to kill Naschy and rally the town behind them. Naschy and the widow escape the mob and return to London. In the interim, the woman who raised Naschy and is believed by the townspeople to be a witch is stalked and beheaded off-screen by one of the thugs.

In London, the widow, now in love with Naschy, visits her psychologist friend, Dr. Jekyll, to see if he can cure Naschy's lycanthropy. He agrees—forty minutes into a seventy-two minute movie. Jekyll plans to use his grandfather's Hyde serum to bring the evil out of Naschy so it may defeat the werewolf side of Naschy's personality and then Jekyll will apply the antidote leaving both Hyde and the werewolf dead.

Jekyll's assistant/mistress isn't having it, though. She's still in love with Jekyll and wants to pursue the Hyde experiment to its conclusion of power and domination. How it leads to that, I don't know. It's very Underpants Gnome economics. Also, she's jealous of Jekyll's unrequited love for the widow.

Things play out in a pretty low-key fashion. There are two good transformations: an elevator transformation and the transformation from Hyde to the werewolf in a night club. Naschy's Hyde is a little willfully campy, which works. The not-quite-winking levity is a nice touch to the film. Overall, though, this version just feels tired, like they were making another Naschy werewolf movie because they were contractually obliged to or it was guaranteed to keep the studio limping along for another fiscal year. However, since this is the fifth or sixth (my sources disagree on the number) of the dozen werewolf movies Naschy did, that seems unlikely. Also, Mondo Esoterica's review makes it sound like the uncut version of the film is actually rather richly composed.

Ultimately, the Mill Creek cut doesn't live up to the promise of its title or offer any further pleasures—intentional or otherwise. There are some laughable/riffable moments, but overall I'd suggest giving it a pass unless you can find an unedited version. This YouTube video seems to be the actual start of the film (my cut started at about the five-minute mark) and looks like it actually sets up the story and establishes a mood for the film. If you can find that version of the movie, you might enjoy it much more.

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